The Mertz Glacier, from which a giant iceberg broke free after collision with the B9B iceberg on Feb. 12 or 13. Photo via Wikimedia Commons: Jacques Verron
Hold your hats, climate change activists: A colossal iceberg about the size of Luxembourg (read: Rhode Island) broke off an Antarctic glacier earlier this month after being clobbered by another giant iceberg. It’s a monumental event — the new iceberg is one of the largest recorded in several years — but as of now, the calving isn’t being blamed on global warming.
“The calving itself hasn’t been directly linked to climate change but it is related to the natural processes occurring on the ice sheet,” said Rob Massom, a senior scientist at the Australian Antarctic Division and the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Center in Hobart, Tasmania.
But despite the collision’s apparently natural cause, the two icebergs now floating side-by-side could have serious impact on the world’s oceans, since the area they’re located is of crucial importance to global ocean circulation.
This area of water had been kept clear because of the glacier, said Steve Rintoul, a leading climate expert. With part of the glacier gone, the area could fill with sea ice, which would disrupt the sinking ability of the dense and cold water.
This sinking water is what spills into ocean basins and feeds the global ocean currents with oxygen, Rintoul explained.
As there are only a few areas in the world where this occurs, a slowing of the process would mean less oxygen supplied into the deep currents that feed the oceans.
“There may be regions of the world’s oceans that lose oxygen, and then of course most of the life there will die,” said Mario Hoppema, chemical oceanographer at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in Germany.
Undoubtedly, climate researchers will be studying these icebergs closely to help us understand what may happen if and when more icebergs break off as global temperatures rise over the next several decades.
Do this now: Fascinated by icebergs? Still deciding what you want to do with your life? Here’s how you can become a climate scientist (hint: hope you like physics!).
Want to understand Cap and Trade? Watch this
Stopping deforestation five times more effective than carbon capture technology